Prashant Iyengar said that yoga brings about neutrality of the mind.
What did he mean by that?
I’ll try to explain my understanding of this phrase and suggest how it may be applied in our
practice. In this, I’ll draw from some ideas presented by Birjoo Mehta in a workshop he taught in May 2018 in Israel.
What does it mean to have a Neutral Mind?
Mental neutrality shouldn’t be understood in a political sense. It’s not being neutral
politically. Rather, it’s having a mind that is not biased and has no prejudice. A mind that is
fresh and clear and can assess any situation without preconceived ideas or views.
A neutral mind doesn’t have preferences or likes and dislikes that stem from self-centered
Here is an example: suppose you are going to share some resource, say, share a cake with two people. Suppose you like one of the two more than the other, you may tend to be
biased, and cut a bigger slice for the one you like, depriving the other person of their fair
share. This kind of biased behavior will lead, sooner or later, to Dukkha (suffering). This is
injustice and sooner or later the person who gets less’ will develop resentment and anger.
Neutrality means emotional balance and stability. If you are very emotional, you’ll not make
the optimal judicious and wholesome decisions. Your emotions will bias your judgments. This again will lead to suffering.
B.K.S. Iyengar said that yoga should bestow us with “emotional stability and intellectual
clarity”. Alignment became such a central principle in his system of yoga, since alignment
brings mental neutrality. A neutral mind is not biased, it doesn’t take sides, and hence makes
judicious, right and impartial decisions. This means acting according to the Dharma. Such
behavior results in minimal suffering for oneself and for others.
According to yoga, the part of the Chitta that creates the small self is Ahamkara (literally, the
I-maker). The Ahamkara builds our life story, our tendencies and preferences. A strong
Ahamkara produces a narrow and self-centered view and a selfish attitude. A person dominated
by self-centeredness will act out of their own interests, ignoring others’ needs and
emotions. They will develop self-importance and be ready to sacrifice the well-being of
others for their own sake.
As a side note, it is interesting that the second Noble Truth of the Buddha – the cause of suffering, states that the carving to become, to express oneself and to be important is a
source of suffering (as well as the desire not to become, which is the opposite expression of an ego). When the Ahamkara is dominant there will be a strong desire to become famous and important; to gain wealth and power and so on. This will, in the long run, certainly cause Dukkha.
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How does this relate to our Asana Practice?
Every asana has attributes, shape and form; we can say that this is the “ego” of the asana – its
discriminating features. That’s how we differentiate one asana from another. As long as you
are caught in the specific details and technicalities of the asana, you are with “the ego of the
However, Patanjali’s definition of an asana doesn’t mention any form or shape. He doesn’t
specify techniques, and doesn’t mention backbends, forward bends, or inversions. Sutras
II.46-47 define asana as follows:
- Sthira sukham asanam – Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit
- Prayatna shaithilya ananta samapattibhyam – perfection in asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.
These are the essential characteristics of any asana – sitting, standing, twisting and so on. In
any asana the mind has to be tranquil, steady, sublime and exalted, and one should reach a
balanced state, in which there is no mental effort, i.e., there is no need for willpower. This is
a neutral state of mind in which the ego is transcended and the “infinite being within is
How to reach a balanced Asana?
When the asana is done with correct alignment and the right degree of extension one becomes
absorbed in it. Then the specific attributes and characteristics of the asana are less important.
The experience is of absorption, spaciousness, egoless and neutrality – no matter what
asanas are being performed. Birjoo said that when the asana is done from the head it becomes intellectual, when it is done from the chest, it may become emotional, but when it is done from the spine the mind becomes balanced and neutral. The technique he gave us is to make a cross in between the shoulder blades: draw a line from the top of one shoulder blade to the bottom of the other, and another line top of the second shoulder blade to the bottom of the first, and fix your attention on the crossing point of these two lines.
Iyengar also mentions the importance of the awareness of the back of the body (see Core of
the Yoga Sutras, p. 148-151). Doing an asana with constant reference to the spine, brings one to the core and creates poise and absorption. Then, upon concluding the asana, one doesn’t feel: “I
did Utthita Trikoṇāsana”, or “I did Ūrdhva Dhanurāsana”, but rather: “I did an asana!”
Acting without leaving Samskaras (subliminal residues) In Sutra 7-8 of the fourth chapter, Patanjali talks about the effects of actions:
7. Karma ashukla akrisnam yoginah trividham itaresam – A Yogi’s actions are
neither white nor black. The actions of others are of three kinds, white, black, or gray.
8. Tatah tad vipaka anugunanam eva abhivyaktih vasananam – These three
types of actions leave impressions that become manifest.
This means that the Yogi’s actions are transparent and leave no residues, so his or her mind is not conditioned by past actions. Yogi’s act without desire and without self-interest, they are not afflicted by delusion (Avidya), ego (Asmita), desire (Raga), aversion (Dvesha), and fear (Abhinivesha). Such actions do not create Samskaras. When one performs an asana with a neutral state of mind, then it doesn’t leave any specific Samskaras (or Vasanas, using the terminology of in III.8) in one’s body and mind. There is only a sublime, exalted, pristine state, and in that state one is not affected by the dualities: Tatah dvandva Anabhighata (as Patanjali says in II.48)